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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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August 4,1974

Posted 01-06-2018 at 12:19 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 07-05-2018 at 07:30 PM by TommyJohn

August 4,1974
vs. Texas Rangers
at White Sox Park

The biggest story in baseball, if not all of sports, in 1974 was Hank Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's career home run record of 714. Aaron went on a hitting binge in the past couple of seasons and ended the 1973 campaign with 713, one short of the almighty Babe. The hype and pressure on Aaron as he entered the 1974 season were enormous. Several stories ran on the adversity Aaron faced in the race to 715, including death threats and hate mail from racist dip****s who didn't want to see a black man break a hallowed record held by a revered white man who had been dead for decades. A lot of fans also blasted Aaron for having needed many more career games and at-bats to achieve his number than had Ruth. Aaron's bid for the record grew larger than the game itself and became a cultural event.

It all came to a climax on the night of April 8 when Aaron took an Al Downing pitch and drove it into the Braves' bullpen at Fulton County Stadium for number 715. Aaron did a humble home run trot as the capacity crowd roared, fireworks went off and even the players on the visiting Dodgers congratulated him as he went around the bases, as did two overenthusiastic 17 year old fans who somehow got past security. The feat made the front pages of just about every newspaper in the country the next day.

Another baseball home run record was in the sights of a slugger going into the 1974 season, only this one got considerably less hype than Hank's pursuit of the Babe.

Bill Melton entered the 1974 season with 119 career home runs, 18 shy of the franchise record of 135 held by "Mr. White Sox" and fan favorite Minnie Minoso. Melton, like Aaron, faced adversity in his race to the record. Sort of.

Melton had been touted as one of the game's premier sluggers when he had back-to-back seasons of 33 home runs, the last one resulting in the AL home run title. The next year he injured his back and was shelved for the season in June following attempts at therapy. He came back in 1973 good as new, but with his power numbers diminished. More adversity followed in 1974 when the Sox traded for Cub 3rd base legend Ron Santo, which was a blow to Melton's ego. Melty had to work hard and overcome to win the starting job from Ron. At one point in 1974 Melton's average dipped below .200 and he was benched in favor of Santo. Harry Caray began to make Melton a favorite target.

It all came to a climax on the afternoon of August 4. In the second game of a doubleheader, Bill stepped into a Steve Foucault pitch and drove it into the stands for the historic number 136. Bill did a humble home run trot while fans cheered, fireworks went off and the Texas Rangers just stood and watched. The record-breaking home run actually merited a mention in Bob Logan's game summary in the next day's Tribune.

The games themselves were slugfests, with Dick Allen socking his 29th home run of the season, a gargantuan 450 foot bomb to dead center, in the 4th inning of game 1. Ken Henderson also belted one in the same inning as the Sox took the game 6-3.

Game 2 saw the Sox overcome a 5-1 deficit to win 13-10. Jorge Orta also homered in the game, part of a day in which the blazing hot second baseman went 6-for-9 with 5 RBIs. Melton's historic home run was part of a 4 run 6th inning.

NOTE: I once saw a program on Hank Aaron that showed him hitting his 715th home run while a version of "The Impossible Dream" played over it, with Milo Hamilton's home run call also heard.

Footage of Melton's historic 136th Sox Sock no longer exists, but I have taken the liberty of attaching a version of "The Impossible Dream" sung by Luther Vandross. Simply play it and imagine the blast sailing into the seats, the scoreboard going off, Harry Caray yelling into the microphone, Chuck Tanner giving Melton a manly hug. The video is five minutes long, so you could also imagine other slow motion Bill Melton career highlights like:

Melton belting his 33rd home run of 1971 to win the AL home run title, then saluting the fans.

Melton scooping up a grounder and throwing a perfect peg to a beer vendor in the 10th row.

Bill staggering from a Rush Street watering hole at 3 AM.



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